He and colleagues used information from the 2001 census to compare the health of people in England living near the sea and far away, both in rural and urban areas.
In the census respondents were required to rate their health as 'good', 'fairly good', or 'not good'. Nationwide, just over two-thirds (69 per cent) rated it as 'good'.
However, those living within three miles (5km) of the coast were slightly more likely to rate their health highly, compared to those living more than 30 miles (50km) inland.
The effect extended to those living in the band 12 to 30 miles (20-50km) from the sea, although less strongly.
Dr Wheeler said: "You don't have to have a sea view to benefit."
The results suggested what was important was how often people got to the coast, and how woven it was into their lives.
The study, published in the journal Health and Place, took account of variations in age and wealth between different areas' populations.
It showed living by the sea most benefits poorer, city-dwelling people - those who, nationally, suffer the worst health and do the least exercise.